Parasites Affecting Dogs: Removing Ticks and Fleas

parasites in dogs - jack russell terrier

Ticks and fleas are the parasites that can affect our dogs. They feed off their blood and are real pests. Find out everything you need to know about ticks and fleas affecting dogs in the following article.

Ticks affecting dogs

As soon as spring comes and the temperature climbs above ten degrees, there is the risk of tick bites when these little bloodsuckers are lying in wait in the long grass and undergrowth. Ticks are irritating and can also transmit diseases like Lyme disease or babesiosis.

Don’t forget to check for ticks!

The earlier ticks are detected and removed, the lower the risk of pathogens being transmitted to the dog. This is particularly for borrelia, which are found in the tick’s intestine, from which they enter the puncture site in order to infest the new host. This process takes at least twelve hours. Transmission is generally very improbable if ticks are removed in good time.

Thus, you should check your dog for ticks after every walk. Pay particular attention to the head, ears, throat, stomach and inner thighs, since ticks prefer areas with thin skin and little fur. You should thoroughly check the dog’s whole body though. Ticks are sometimes more visible than others – depending on the amount of blood they have absorbed, their sizes varies from pinpoint to cherry stone.

Removing ticks from dogs

It’s easiest to remove ticks using a tick comb, which removes the little bloodsuckers carefully from the skin, which has become acquainted with their mouth parts. You should definitely not crush ticks. Otherwise, they can secrete the contents of their stomach and thereby pathogens that end up in the wound and the dog’s bloodstream too. You should also make sure to completely remove the tick. If the head remains stuck, this can result in inflammation.

You should steer clear of using oil, adhesives, nail varnish remover and similar home remedies. They can also lead to the tick vomiting and secreting pathogens into the puncture wound.

How to correctly remove ticks from dogs:

  1. Use a tick comb to remove ticks.
  2. Position the comb as close as possible to the dog’s skin.
  3. Take the head of the tick and pull it carefully and steadily out of the puncture site.
  4. Check that the tick was fully removed.
  5. Disinfect the wound and monitor it regularly. If a circular red inflammation forms around the puncture, this can be a sign of a Borreliosis infection.
  6. Keep in mind the tick bite during the coming period. Take your dog to a vet if it appears sickly, weary or develops a fever.

Once you have removed the tick, it must be disposed of. Some tick-plagued dog owners resort to very brutal methods, for instance, burning the flea in order to protect themselves and their dog. There’s a more gentle alternative: place the removed tick onto a piece of Sellotape and fold it together. It can then be safely disposed of.

Diseases transmitted by ticks

Ticks can transmit some diseases that shouldn’t be underestimated. Here are some examples:

  1. Lyme disease: Lyme disease is an infectious disease triggered by the Borrelia bacterial group. Borrelia need parasites like ticks as carriers in order to reach the blood of new hosts through tick bites and to disseminate further.
  2. Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE): Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE for short) is a viral disease triggered by the TBE virus. It is mostly transmitted by a bite from an infected tick. TBE is very rare amongst dogs and only affects immunocompromised canines.
  3. Babesiois: Babesiosis is an infectious disease caused by babesia, single-celled parasites. Babesia can be transmitted through the bite of the ornate cow tick and attacks red blood cells.
  4. Anaplasmosis: Anaplasmosis is an infectious disease triggered by bacteria from the anaplasma species. This is also transmitted by ticks.
  5. Ehrlichiosis: Ehrlichiosis is an infectious disease caused by Ehrlicia canis, a bacteria from the rickettsia group. The disease is transmitted by the brown dog tick native to Mediterranean countries in Europe.
  6. Hepatozoonosis: Hepatozoonosis is an infectious disease caused by the single-celled parasite Hepatazoon canis. Infection results from consuming the brown dog tick, often introduced from mediterranean countries.

Prevention against ticks for dogs

Better safe than sorry – you should therefore protect your dog in advance from tick bites and the risk of transmitting diseases. There are different compounds (parasiticides) for this that kill ticks or prevent them from attaching themselves to the skin.

  • Spot-ons: Spot-on treatments are applied between the animal’s shoulder blades and are effective against ticks for up to four weeks. The substance is absorbed into the skin and can take full effect thanks to being in an area that the animal cannot reach.
  • Sprays: Anti-parasite sprays are effective against ticks. Once applied, protection lasts for up to four weeks.
  • Collars: Anti-parasite collars are another possibility to protect dogs from ticks.

In order to prevent a borrelia infection, there is also the possibility of getting your dog vaccinated. The vaccination cannot prevent your dog from being bitten by a tick, but it does help the organism to develop antibodies that prevent a borrelia infection. There are several vaccines available, though it is controversial. Let your vet advise you.

Fleas affecting dogs

Fleas in Dogs - Itching Dog © Christian Müller /

If your dog scratches itself frequently, fleas could be the cause of its itchiness. These little pests are one of the common types of parasites and as well as being irksome can result in diseases. Flea infestations are mainly caused by contact with other animals affected by fleas, though they also like to nest in textiles, e.g. carpets, cushions or sofas. Once an adult flea has found a host, generally it rarely changes to a different one. It stays permanently on its victim and feeds off its blood. Reproduction happens in a flash, with female fleas producing on average 30 eggs per day, which are laid in the dog’s fur and trickle underneath it. This is how they end up in the animal’s surroundings – on the sofa, in the basket or cracks in the floor, for instance. Four to twelve days later, larvae hatch from the eggs and feed off flea faeces and cell material that also falls down from the animals. The larvae pupate and some time later new fleas hatch that also go looking for a host. When it comes to a flea infestation, it’s therefore important not just to tackle the adult fleas, but the eggs and larvae too.

Fleas are not selective. Although different types of fleas specialise in certain hosts (for instance, there is the dog and cat flea), they can also affect humans.

Recognising fleas on dogs

A flea is merely a few millimetres in size and can barely be recognised with the naked eye. The main symptom of a flea infestation for dogs is itching. This leads to the dog scratching, licking or biting itself more, which can result in injury or eczema.

Inspect your dog if you suspect it has fleas. If one is visible, the infestation can clearly be recognised. If not, you can simply find out if fleas are present by examining your dog for flea faeces.

Flea magnified © constantincornel /

This is how you recognise if your dog has fleas:

  1. Place your dog on a flat surface that is light enough for you to recognise traces of faeces when they trickle out of the fur. A tiled floor or the bathtub are suitable examples.
  2. Now thoroughly comb the dog’s fur with as narrow-toothed a comb as possible. If flea faeces are present, they will fall out or remain stuck in the comb in the form of small black crumbs.
  3. Collect the crumbs with a white cloth and wet it carefully.
  4. If it is flea faeces, they will disintegrate and leave red marks on the cloth, since faeces crumbs are digested blood from the dog.

Dangers with fleas

Fleas aren’t just irksome for dogs and can bring undesired consequences too:

  • Anaemia: A severe flea infestation can lead to significant blood loss and in the worst case scenario anaemia (blood deficiency).
  • Flea saliva allergy: Fleas excrete saliva when they bite, which leads to the typical itching – some dogs have an allergic reaction to flea saliva.

Tapeworms: Fleas can contain the eggs of tapeworms. If this is the case and the dog eats the flea, the eggs end up in its intestine and develop into tapeworms. If your dog has had fleas, you should get it dewormed to be on the safe side.

Successfully tackling fleas affecting dogs

In order to safely get rid of fleas affecting dogs, you should proceed in two steps:

Treat the animal

There are numerous methods available for treating fleas affecting dogs, including spot-on treatments applied between the animal’s shoulder blades, anti-parasite sprays and collars.

Treat the surrounding area and fellow animals

If your dog has fleas, you should definitely treat and examine the surrounding area and other animals living in the household too in order to remove all development stages of the fleas. Wash underlays and covers at 60 degrees minimum. Use the vacuum cleaner more regularly and thoroughly hoover all the relevant areas. After the first session, you should package the vacuum bag separately and ideally get rid of it immediately. As support, you can also treat the surrounding area with anti-parasite sprays.

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